Penobsquis residents should be able to negotiate their own water contracts instead of agreeing to one drafted by the nearby community of Sussex Corner, according to a lawyer.

Michel DesNeiges has been retained to represent dozens of Penobsquis-area homeowners who have been asked to sign contracts before they will be hooked up to a municipal-type water system.

People in the southern New Brunswick community saw their wells mysteriously go dry about five years ago. The New Brunswick government built the community a municipal-type water system that will be managed by the nearby village of Sussex Corner.

Households in Penobsquis were asked to sign a contract for the water but when many people balked they hired DesNeiges, an environmental lawyer. He is urging people in the community not to sign the water contract.

"I believe that everyone who enters into a contract is to do so knowing all of the circumstances, being in a position to negotiate. But here we're not inviting people to negotiate the contract, it is being imposed on them. I think that is very unusual," DesNeiges said

He said residents should have been represented when the contract was being drawn up.

"I think that is essentially what everyone wants, that the citizens are treated with respect. And if there is a contract to be entered, that they will be going into it having been a negotiator [of the contract] and not simply being told what to do," DesNeiges said.

Contract fair says mayor

But Sussex Corner Mayor Eric Cunningham said there's nothing wrong with the contract.

"We wanted to help our neighbours and we still do," he said. 

The contract is required because the people getting the water live outside the village's boundaries, he added.

"We're providing a service and we need assurances that people are going to abide by it," Cunningham said.

Under the contract, the 120 Penobsquis customers would pay an annual fee of $400 for water, which would be paid in four quarterly payments of $100.

The residents' lawyer said he is ready to sit down with Sussex Corner officials and hopefully provincial representatives to negotiate a water contract.